Note: There may be spoilers for Melusine in this review.
The Virtu, the second book in Sarah Monette’s The Doctrine of Labyrinth series, picks up where Melsuine left off and ties up all the loose ends from the first book. The series could have been brought to a satisfying conclusion with this book, but I am glad there is one more book out and one more yet to be published since the character of Mildmay has become one of my favorites of all time and Felix is not too far behind him. As much as I loved Melusine, I thought this book was even better and this was the book that secured Monette a place as one of my favorite writers.
Upon reaching the end of the journey begun in Melusine, Felix is enjoying his restored sanity and Mildmay is recuperating as much as he can from the curse of the Mirador, which left him with a permanently crippled leg. While Felix fits in easily and is quite popular with the people, Mildmay is an outcast due to his lack of refinement and the widespread belief that he mistreated Felix. Mildmay, as usual, keeps his feelings on his hatred of the place to himself, but Felix eventually realizes it must not be easy for his brother to be looked down on all the time. Driven by a desire to repair The Virtu and return to his former glory as a wizard of the Mirador in addition to the this, Felix decides it is time for them to return to the city of Melusine.
Since the curse of the Mirador’s activation exposed Mildmay as a murderer, he cannot simply go back to his old life in the Lower City of Melusine. He refuses to leave his new-found brother, whom he cares for a great deal, so he asks Felix to take him under his protection through an ancient ritual, regardless of the consequences.
This is not a book to read when looking for a light-hearted, easy story. It’s often harsh, melancholy, and haunting, though it is interspersed with humor that keeps it from being excessively dark. It is somewhat angst-ridden but it also has the most forward-moving plot of any of the books in the series thus far.
Like Melusine, the story alternates between the first person point of view of Mildmay and Felix. As with the former book, the characters are the strong point of the story, but they shine even more brightly in this novel. Each point of view character has such a strong, unique voice and you could easily tell which character you were reading about without seeing the name attached to the section.
Since very little was seen of Felix as a sane person in the first book, more of his personality is revealed in The Virtu. He is one of those wonderfully flawed characters. Most of the time he is charming and manipulative and he tends to hurt everyone around him, yet there are glimmers of humanity when he displays kindness toward his brother. Although Felix’s point of view is more self-centered than Mildmay’s, I still find myself sympathizing with him and feeling like he’s not that bad when reading about him. In fact, I even find him rather likable most of the time.
Mildmay is certainly the more sympathetic of the two brothers and perhaps one of the best written characters in fantasy. He certainly has his flaws – a devotion to his older brother that often gets him into trouble, insecurity, and an inability to let go of his past – but they tend to be shortcomings that are endearing rather than the despicable imperfections possessed by Felix. Mildmay’s point of view is always infused with a intelligent insights and a dry sense of humor that make him nearly impossible not to love.
I would recommend The Virtu to anyone who has read and enjoyed Melusine. It is necessary for completing the story arc begun in the first book, and it is more of the same dark story with well-realized characters as the first book but improved. This is one of those rare novels that sticks with one long after putting it down and you know you will have to reread it multiple times.
Read the first chapter on Sarah Monette’s website. The first four chapters of both The Virtu and its sequel The Mirador are available.